The crucial legacy missing from US food

Dr Frank’s favorite recipe

Among one of Frank’s favorite recipes is her chocolate and pinion (pine) nut torte, a signature dish for the feast days of the Indian Pueblos of New Mexico.

Chocolate & Piñon Nut Torte
(© By Lois Ellen Frank, PhD)

The Feast Day is one of the biggest celebrations of the year among the Indian Pueblos of New Mexico. Each Pueblo honors their own patron saint on a different day. After the gathered groups attend mass in the morning, they hold a procession on the Santa Fe plaza where an altar houses their patron saint. Throughout the day, dressed in ceremonial clothing, they perform ancient traditional dances. Members of the Pueblos, relatives, visitors and tourists are welcome (although each Pueblo has different rules, so be sure to check with the specific Pueblo you are visiting for guidelines on dress and ethics if you plan on attending).

After mass, many of the women return home to set up for the day’s feast that they have been preparing for, in most cases, for days. On each table is a variety of salads, stews, meats, homemade breads, and of course, desserts – both modern as well as traditional – like the piñon nut torte.

This recipe is my adaptation of some of the tortes I sampled at different Pueblos, and I serve it a lot in my catering company, Red Mesa Cuisine. I like to serve it with two sauces, a peach sauce from locally grown peaches from the Velarde Family’s farm and a hand-harvested prickly pear fruit syrup from C&J Farms. You can decorate the entire torte and set it out with the sauces for a buffet, or slice it and plate it individually for your guests. Either way, it’s a wonderful dessert.

1 cup raw piñon nuts (pine nuts), (pecans may be substituted)
2 tablespoons blue cornmeal
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
9 ounces semi-sweet dark chocolate
6 egg yolks
¾ cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar, for decoration (optional)
2 tablespoons blue cornmeal, for decoration (optional)

Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan. Preheat the oven to 350F (177C). In a food processor, grind the piñon nuts to a very moist nut butter. This may take several minutes. Add the blue cornmeal and blend again for about 30 seconds, just long enough to combine.

In a double boiler over medium-high heat, melt the butter and chocolate together, stirring occasionally so that they melt and blend together evenly. Add to the piñon mixture in the food processor and blend about 1 minute until smooth.

Beat the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla together in a bowl, and add to the other ingredients in the food processor. Using the pulse setting, slowly blend again until smooth. Do not over mix or the oil from the nuts will begin to separate. The mixture should be smooth and moist. Always add the egg mixture last, otherwise, the eggs will curdle from the heated chocolate.

Spoon the batter into the prepared cake pan and pat down with your fingers until evenly spread. This is a thick batter. I use a spatula to press it down evenly or a piece of paper towel pressing down lightly with my hands. Bake for approximately 14 to 16 minutes, depending on your oven (convection works well for this torte) or until the cake looks cooked on the top. Use a toothpick or skewer to make sure it is cooked all the way through. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool before decorating. This is a dense torte and to me it resembles dense, very moist brownies. If you desire a crisper torte, you can cook it slightly longer.

When the torte has cooled, after 20 to 30 minutes, remove it from the pan, and then be creative for the decorating process. You can do individual stencils on each slice or decorate the entire torte. To make the south-western motif pictured, cut a stencil out of cardboard. First dust the cake with confectioners’ sugar using a medium sieve, lightly tapping the sides and moving it in a circular motion around the surface of the cake. Then carefully holding the stencil as close to the torte’s surface as possible without touching it and sieve the blue cornmeal over the exposed areas. Carefully remove the stencil without disrupting the design. For a finishing touch, place a few piñon nuts at the corner of each stenciled triangle.

Serves 12 to 14.

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